- Fleshing the Spirit: Spirituality and Activism in Chicana, Latina, and Indigenous Women’s Lives ed. by Elisa Facio and Irene Lara
Bringing together twenty-one contributors from diverse backgrounds, Elisa Facio and Irene Lara’s edited collection Fleshing the Spirit: Spirituality and Activism in Chicana, Latina, and Indigenous Women’s Lives explores the political, decolonizing possibilities in spirituality—or what, borrowing from Gloria Anzaldúa (who introduced the term into feminist theory and women’s and gender studies [WGS]), they call “spiritual activism.” A post-secular theory and praxis driven by the desire for healing, social justice, and inclusionary communities, spiritual activism challenges the assumption that all forms of spirituality are escapist, otherworldly, solipsistic, and naïve by offering an alternative to dichotomous epistemologies and ontologies that separate body from mind, spirit from matter, and contemplation from activism.1 As editors Facio and Lara explain, “contrary to some dominant views that assume that being spiritual is a passive, apolitical state, we are affirming that as deployed within a ‘spiritual activist’ worldview, it is active, it moves us into further action, and sustains the multiple ways we participate in social justice” (10). Unlike organized religions, which are outwardly imposed and directed, rely upon external rules, doctrines, and authorities, and often reinforce a monologic, transcendent “truth,” spiritual activism thrives on multiplicity, has its source at least partially within each individual, and is rooted in the material world. Spiritual activism posits a metaphysics and ethics of interconnectedness that insists on our interrelatedness with all existence; it is a visionary, experientially based decolonizing project that foregrounds transformative action.2 Fleshing the Spirit intentionally builds on and expands Anzaldúa’s theory-praxis of spiritual activism and other aspects of her work; in so doing, it offers an important intervention into the unspoken secularity of WGS, a point I return to below.
Fleshing the Spirit is diverse in contributors, perspectives, genres, writing styles, politics, religious backgrounds, and experiences. It includes well-known scholars like Inés Talamantez, Inés Hernández-Ávila, Norma E. Cantú, Oliva M. Espín, Lara Medina, Laura E. Pérez, and Patrisia Gonzales, as well as emerging authors. While both editors and a majority of the contributors work at least partially within conventional academic structures, others have careers in public [End Page 196] health, K–12 education, business, midwifery, and community organizations. Contributors are also diverse in class backgrounds, sexuality, and region. This diversity is one of the volume’s major strengths because it demonstrates spiritual activism’s broad relevance and offers multiple points of possible connections. But reader beware: the diversity of perspectives exceeds the constraints of this review, and the following paints in broad strokes which inevitably overlook important dimensions of the text.
The book’s thoughtful structure facilitates its spiritual-activist work. It opens with an invitational poem by Talamantez, “a foremother in the field of Native, Chicana, and Mexican spiritualities” (261), and a meditative foreword by Hernández-Ávila, another foundational figure in the field. These pieces authorize the contributors’ visionary approaches to personal and social change while underscoring the fact that politicized spiritualities have a long history, both inside and outside academic disciplinary knowledges. The editors’ introduction confirms these foundational dimensions and offers an excellent overview of the book. In addition to providing a robust definition of spirituality and describing the project’s origin in their desire to “decoloniz[e] the academy that largely devalues or misunderstands spirituality, both as a serious academic topic and as an integral aspect of being alive” (3; emphasis in original), Facio and Lara discuss their multiyear editorial process, which included consultations with respected mentors; a carefully constructed call for papers; conversations with contributors; and conference panels, roundtables, and discussion groups designed to assist contributors as they developed their essays. The remainder of the book is divided into four parts: “The East: New Beginnings”; “The West: Feminine Energies”; “The North: The Direction of the Elders”; and “The South: The Direction of Youth.” As...